Frequently asked questions

Isn’t support for the “right of return” really another way of calling for the destruction of Israel?

The right of return is a basic human right which doesn’t depend on any specific political arrangement.  There’s no doubt that when the return occurs, whether in the framework of two states or a single state, Israel’s character will change.  The nature and extent of this change depend, among other things, upon agreements negotiated between the two parties.  “Zochrot” believes this change has the potential to heal the gaping wound Israelis and Palestinians share, and for the first time allow Israelis to become part of the Middle East.

Doesn’t the right of return mean returning to the locations from which the refugees came? What if their homes have been destroyed? And what if others now live there?

Most of Israel’s Jewish population lives in urban areas comprising only one-quarter of the country’s area.  The remaining three-quarters are sparsely populated by only about 160,000 Jews.  Most of the Palestinian refugees come from that area.  Dr. Salman Abu-Sitte, a Palestinian geographer, calculated at the end of the 1990’s that no new localities had yet been established on 90% of the land that had belonged to the Palestinian refugees (unfortunately, in recent years some of the refugees’ lands have been sold as part of the process of privatizing state land, and buildings which still stood are gradually being demolished).
And with respect to the other locations, it’s clear that history can’t be reversed.  Injustice can’t be redressed by creating new injustice.  One possible solution might be to establish new localities for the refugees near where they used to live.  In any case, the actual solutions must be reached through negotiations between the parties.

The Arabs rejected the Partition Plan, and the nakba was one of the consequences of that rejection. So what are they complaining about?

First of all, it’s important to understand that the nakba was, finally, a political decision taken by the Israeli government after the end of the 1948 war not to allow the refugees to return, and to demolish their homes.  In that sense, however much the Arabs may be responsible for the outbreak of the war that doesn’t justify the nakba.

Every person has the right to live securely in their home and their country.  Whether a person agrees or disagrees with the division of his country is a political position which has no connection to their fundamental rights.  But it’s important to understand why the Palestinians objected to the UN partition plan:  it divided the country into two future states, with the Palestinians comprising almost half the population of the Jewish state.  It was clear to all that a Jewish state wouldn’t be able to survive under such conditions, and that the plan would result, sooner or later, in transferring the Arab population beyond the state’s borders.  That was one of the reasons most Palestinians objected to the plan.  Since they were the vast majority of the population of Mandatory Palestine, they viewed the plan as an attempt by the Jewish minority to impose its will on the majority.  Moreover, we sometimes tend to forget that many Jews also objected to the partition plan (the Revisionists, for example), or viewed it only as an interim solution (MAPAI), and that during the 1948 war the Jewish forces ignored the partition plan, attacking and capturing territory beyond its boundaries.

Millions of Germans were expelled from Eastern Europe during the second world war. Do they also have the right to return?

During the 20th century, refugee problems were created in many parts of the world, including those involving Germans who had lived in various parts of Eastern Europe.  The issue of the German refugees (who had often been indiscriminately accused of supporting the Nazi regime) is often raised as a way of  undermining the universal applicability of the right of return and of justifying ethnic cleansing by associating the expellees with particular political forces.  “Zochrot” believes that a person’s right to live in their home and their country is absolute.  It does not depend on their political identity.  That’s also true for the German refugees.  In 1972, however, in an agreement  West Germany signed with Poland, it renounced the collective right of return of German refugees to areas from which they had fled or been expelled, so that this issue has been resolved – formally, at least.

Why don’t you say anything about crimes committed against Jews, in the past and also today?

“Zochrot” was established in order to recall the history that had been forgotten and repressed by Israeli Jews.  We don’t ignore crimes committed against Jews, but we believe the voices of Jewish victims of the conflict are already heard loudly in the Israeli discourse.

And what about the right of return and the property of Jews from Arab countries, who lost almost everything when they were expelled?

Every refugee has the right to return to his country and/or be compensated for lost homes and property, regardless of their origin.  This is also true of persons from Arab countries who came to Israel.  But, the Palestinian refugees aren’t responsible for what happened to those Jews, and a solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees (regarding the return as well as compensation for property) can’t depend on a solution to the issues involving Jews from Arab lands.

How long does the right of return last? How many generations?

The “cutoff date” for the right of return and the end of refugee status must be determined by agreements between the parties, based on the alternatives available to the refugees.  Until such agreement has been reached, the right passes to the refugees’ descendants with no time limit, like property rights.

So, in effect, isn’t the purpose of your organization to protect the rights of Palestinians?

“Zochrot”’s primary obligation is to the Jewish public that is the focus of its activities.  “Zochrot” believes that a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem will have a positive effect on all Israelis.

Is the purpose only to remember, or do you also have some political goal or vision?

The reality is that the struggle over what to remember, and how to remember, transforms remembering into a political activity.  “Zochrot” believes that although remembering, and accepting responsibility for, the Palestinian nakba by Israeli Jews is a fundamental and necessary precondition for reconciliation and peace between the two peoples, that isn’t enough.  They must be accompanied by, among other things, accepting the Palestinian refugees’ right of return.  We also believe that the solution must be based on an agreement reached by Israel and the refugees themselves working together.

Why call yourselves “Zochrot”? Are all your members women?

“Zochrot” includes both women and men.  We chose the name because we believed that the way Israelis remember the 1948 war is fundamentally militaristic and chauvinistic in nature, focusing primarily on battles, operations, conquests and heroism.  We chose a verb tense less frequently employed in Hebrew as an expression of our attempt to create a feminist alternative addressing other topics, such as the lives of Palestinian communities living in Israel before the war and the fate of their women, their men and their children.

How many Palestinian refugees are there today? Do all of them want to return?

More than 5 million Palestinian refugees are estimated to live throughout the world, including in the Occupied Territories.  More than 260,000 of them are internally-displaced persons, Israeli citizens who remained within the Green Line.  The refugees are in broad agreement regarding their right to return, but it’s not possible to know a priori how many would decide to do so if they were actually offered the opportunity

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